Tuscany is, incredibly, everything you’d hope for: world-class art and architecture, stone hill towns and delicious local cuisine.
Tuscany villa holiday guide
It is a delicious discovery to find that pretty much every cliché you ever heard about Tuscany is true. Cities are stuffed with art and architecture from the Gothic and Renaissance periods. The Medieval frescoes of San Gimignano’s Collegiata; Masaccio’s frescoed Brancacci Chapel, in Florence; Piero della Francesca’s Legend of the True Cross in Arezzo… you are just scratching the surface. Stone hill-towns survey mile after mile of hazy, vine-clad hills. A simple plate of wild-boar salami is washed down with a glass of Brunello di Montalcino. Oh, yes, a villa holiday in Tuscany will always leave you wanting more.
Florence was the capital of the Renaissance, and art and architecture from the 14th and 15th centuries is everywhere. The Uffizi Gallery, Michelangelo’s David in the Accademia, the Raphaels and Titians of the Pitti Palace; the list goes on. Smaller Siena has Italy’s best-preserved Gothic centre, and its own (earlier) artistic heritage in several museums. Pisa’s glory days were the 1100s and 1200s, when the monuments of the Campo dei Miracoli (‘Field of Miracles’) were erected: the Leaning Tower, the vast Baptistery, a Cathedral in the ‘Pisan-Romanesque’ style that became a blueprint for others.
The Tuscan countryside
It is the miles and miles of corrugated hills that are Tuscany’s classic postcard image: the vines, woods, and olive groves of the Chianti; a lone cypress standing amid the vast, emerald-green of the Val d’Orcia. In the far north, the rolling landscapes of the Lunigiana rise to the solid rock wall of the Apennine mountain range. Head here for wild hiking, cave exploration, and even skiing, in winter, at Abetone.
Arts and culture in Tuscany
How long have you got? What we now call ‘the Renaissance’ was a Tuscan—a Florentine¬—invention. Under the patronage of the despotic Medici family, the arts thrived. Sculptors Donatello and Ghiberti; painters Masaccio, Michelangelo, Botticelli, and Michelangelo; architects Alberti and Brunelleschi, whose Cathedral Dome is an icon of Florence. All of them were Florentines, or worked in the city. Siena flourished a century earlier, and its best arts date to the Gothic 1300s: the Palazzo Pubblico and Ambrogio Lorenzetti’s frescoes inside, and a massive, ornate cathedral dedicated to the Virgin Mary.
Explore Tuscany's history
The Etruscans were the first civilization to make a real impact here—and left their name to the region. Volterra, Arezzo, and Chiusi were important Etruscan cities; at the latter, explore ancient tunnels beneath the town in Porsenna’s Labyrinth. The more-recent story of Tuscany is of one-upmanship and occasional war between its principal cities. Lucchese and Pisani still eye each other suspiciously. Centuries of Florence–Sienaantagonisms ended in the latter’s final defeat at Montalcino. The town’s Castle still keeps Siena’s final republican standard.
Eating and drinking in Tuscany
You are going to eat well here—but then you probably knew that already. The olive oil is among Italy’s finest, and especially delicate from the Lucca area. The red wines of Chianti, Montepulciano, and Montalcino are robust yet noble. Tuscan ingredients do not need any complex preparation: pasta with a sauce of cinghiale (boar) or lepre (hare), a bowl of ribollita(mixed-vegetable stew), or a panzanella (tomato and stale-bread salad). A good baker is a local celebrity: try Lucca’s buccellato (sweet, anise bread), Siena’s ricciarelli (almond biscuits), and the rock-hard cantuccini—properly known as biscotti di Prato, after their home city. Dunk them in a dessert glass of sweet white Tuscan wine, vin santo.